India May Repeal Homosexuality Law

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – The country’s second national Gay Pride march was held in New Delhi as Indian officials prepare to repeal an anti-gay law despite opposition from religious and some political leaders.  India is one of the few democracies in the world that still criminalizes homosexuality.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was drafted in 1860 by the British and criminalizes consensual sex between adults of the same gender.  Those found guilty are punishable by a 10-year jail sentence.

Spokesman for the opposition party, Sidharth Nath Singh, said, “This is a sensitive issue and warrants a debate within the Indian society at large before arriving at any decision,” and the party’s leader remarked that the government should not make changes to the law in haste, adding that India is neither Europe nor America.  India’s Law Minister also stated, “[W]e are not going to rush to any conclusion.  We will certainly take into account concerns of all sections….”

Conversely, India’s religious leaders oppose repealing the law.  Babu Joseph of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India said, “[W]e are certainly in principle against legalizing [homosexuality], because that would mean the state endorsing same-sex relationships,” and homosexuality “violates fundamental norms of a family.”  India’s Muslim leaders also oppose repealing the anti-gay law saying, “Islam does not allow any unnatural act.  No Muslim in the world, let alone India, can ever support it.”

India gay Source: Times Online

However, activists are claiming that the homosexuality law violates India’s Constitution, which guarantees all citizens right to equality and personal liberty, and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Supporters of repealing the law also say that the anti-gay law makes it hard for HIV infected gay men to seek medical treatment.  A local NGO has challenged the law’s constitutionality with the Delhi High Court, and the ruling is expected next month.

For more information, please see:

Asian Tribune – India will repeal anti-gay law but in a hurry, says Law Minister Moily – 29 June 2009

CNN – India faith leaders: Anti-gay law must stay – 29 June 2009

Times Online – India to repeal anti-gay law as second Gay Pride is held – 29 June 2009

China to Minimize Executions

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – The Supreme People’s Court of China, which has the power of final approval for death penalty cases, announced that the Court would cut down on the number of annual executions and impose more suspended death sentences.

Death penalty(Source: AsiaNews)

China is considered to be the world’s top executioner.  According to Amnesty International, at least 7,000 Chinese have been sentenced to death and 1,718 people were executed in 2008, which is 72% of the world’s total number of people executed.  The exact number of executions is a state secret in China.

The death penalty applies to 60 offenses in China, including non-violent crimes like tax fraud and embezzlement.  However, after China gave the Supreme People’s Court the power to review death penalty cases from the lower courts two years ago, there have been fewer executions.  One Chinese newspaper reported that the Supreme People’s Court overturned 10% of the death penalty cases in 2008.

China_death_penalty Murder convict being taken away to be executed in Guangzhou (Source: Reuters)

Zhang Zun, the vice-president of the Supreme People’s Court said, “As it is impossible for the country to abolish capital punishment under current realities and social security conditions, it is an important effort to strictly control the application of the penalty by judicial organs.”  Zhang added, “Judicial departments should use the least number of death sentences possible,” and use capital punishment only against “those who have committed extremely…heinous crimes that lead to grave social consequences.”

However, rights groups have been concerned because Chinese officials are alleged to have remarked that violent protesters of the riots that took place in Xinjiang region earlier this month would be executed. 

One human rights group researcher, Si-si Liu, expressed her concern saying, “We question how this kind of sentencing decision, which only courts should be eligible to make can be made by people outside the judicial system.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – China to cut down on executions – 29 July 2009

BBC – China to cut down number of executions – 29 July 2009

Guardian – China to restrict death penalty and cut executions – 29 July 2009

Khmer Rouge Survivor Testifies at UN-Backed Tribunal

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – One of the last remaining survivors, Vann Nath, of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison gave his testimony today at Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal. Also in attendance facing charges was Comrade Duch (a.k.a. Kaing Guek Eav), a senior Khmer Rouge official in charge of the infamous prison. Up to 16,000 men, women, and children were tortured under his command and later taken away to be executed in the late 1970’s. Vann Nath is one of only seven to have survived the prison, and only one of three currently living.

“The conditions were so inhumane and the food was so little…I even thought eating human flesh would be a good meal,” Vann Nath told the UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh. During his testimony, Nath, now 67, told the tribunal that he was fed twice a day, and each meal consisted of three teaspoons of rice porridge. “We were so hungry, we would eat insects that dropped from the ceiling… We would quickly grab and eat them so we could avoid being seen by the guards.”

Nath testified that he only survived his imprisonment at the jail and was spared torture because Comrade Duch liked his paintings of the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot. Comrade Duch is the first senior Khymer Rouge leader to face trial and the only one to take responsibility for his actions. Duch is charged with crimes against humanity and is the first of five defendants scheduled for trials by the UN-assisted tribunal. The four other Khmer officials will face trial in the coming year.

Duch himself has previously testified that being sent to Tuol Sleng prison was “tantamount to a death sentence,” and that he was only following orders to ensure his own safety. Earlier in his trial, the 66-year-old admitted responsibility for his role as governor of the jail, and begged forgiveness from his victims. The Khmer regime’s policies caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people nationwide through execution, torture, disease, and malnutrition.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Khmer Rouge Survivor Testifies – June 29, 2009

CBC News – Ex-Khmer Rouge Prisoner Testifies at Trial in Cambodia – June 29, 2009

Reuters – Pol Pot Paintings Saved my Life – June 29, 2009

Moroccan Activist Sentenced to Three Years for Contempt

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RABAT, Morocco– On June 24, Moroccan human rights activist Chekib El-Khiari, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for “gravely insulting state institutions” and for minor violations of Moroccan foreign account regulations. In addition, El-Khiari has been fined about 753,000 dirhams (US $90,360) for his actions. El-Khiari has been actively speaking out against Morocco’s drug policies for several years.

Human Rights Activist Chekib El-Khiari, Image Courtesy of Global Voices Online

El-Khiari was convicted of “gravely insulting state institutions” for his criticism that Morocco is failing to regulate and reign in the drug trade. This crime carries a maximum sentence of one month to one year imprisonment and a fine between 1,200 and 5,000 dirhams (US $144 to US $600), according to the Moroccan Penal code articles 263 and 265.

El-Khiari was also convicted of violating Moroccan foreign finance regulations for opening a bank account abroad in Melilla, in which he deposited € 225 (US $288) after he received authorization from the Moroccan exchange office. This money was payment for an article that El-Khiari wrote for the Spanish daily El País in 2006.

Human Rights Watch has speculated that the financial charges were only added in order to increase the maximum sentence El-Khiari could receive, and to further discredit El-Khiari and his statements. “Morocco is opening up in some respects, but its treatment of Chekib El-Khiari shows that when someone speaks out in ways that truly bother officials, they come down on him like a ton of bricks,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Whitson further charged that the verdict against El-Khiari violates the basic right of freedom of expression, and that the verdict was meant to silence other activists in Morocco’s Rif region and to intimidate others.

Moroccan news agency MAP reported that Khayari also has been accused of taking money from foreign leaders in order to lead a campaign to discredit Moroccan efforts to stop drug trafficking.
El-Khiari is being held at Oukacha Prison in Casablanca, and his lawyers are planning to appeal the June 24 verdict.    

For more information, please see:

E-Taiwan News- Moroccan Activist Gets 3 Years in Jail on Contempt– 26 June 2009

Global Voices Online – Morocco: Human Rights Activist Jailed for Whistleblowing– 26 June 2009

Reuters- Morocco Court Jails Critic of Govt Drugs Policy– 24 June 2009

Human Rights Watch- Morocco: Narco-Traffic Whistleblower Unfairly Sentenced-24 June 2009

BRIEF: UN Works with Fiji Security Forces to Ban Torture

SUVA, Fiji – The United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights is helping Fiji’s security forces ensure that detainees will not be tortured or ill-treated.

International law dictates that torture or ill-treatment of those arrested or detained is illegal. Matilda Bogner, a regional representative, said that Fiji already has a strong commitment to banning torture and ill treatment.

At the same time, Bogner says she has worked closely with Fiji Police and the Prison Authority to educate them not to take the law into their own hands, but to defer to the proper legal authority.

Bogner was also careful to point out that Fiji is not unique, and it is crucial that the UN work with other countries around the world to educate and eradicate torturous treatment of those who are arrested or detained. The UN hopes to work harmoniously together with local security forces to address these human rights issues.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – UN works on torture ban in Fiji – 28 June 2009